Unsuspecting handymen Val and Earl pass though a sleepy, dusty town called Perfection, and end up being handier than they thought as they help rescue the inhabitants from a plague of giant underground worms who keep popping up and picking off the populace.
Americans in science fiction movies have, of course, always distrusted the desert, at least since those A-bomb tests in the 50s raised generation after generation of giant ants, revived dinosaurs, enormous spiders, alien pod people, killer shrews, giant gila monsters and ping-pong-ball-eyed mutants.
Ron Underwood's first feature - produced by Gayle Anne Hurd of Aliens and The Abyss fame - is a clever, unfussy pastiche of this breed of 50s monster movie. A folksy desert community is terrorised by man-eating, sand-burrowing worms which turn out to be merely the mouth-tentacles of much larger creatures. Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon are dim-witted cowboy handymen who discover the monsters and proceed to spend their time arguing about what they ought to be called or trying to think of a way of turning the creatures into a profitable business, while heroine Finn Carter is a seismologist who gets irritated when the locals expect her to be an instant expert on the life cycle of the monsters just because she is a scientist.
Broadly humorous in its opening stretches, which plays the Jaws-style rampage off against the antics of its New West characters, Tremors becomes more suspenseful as a small group of the monsters surround the town, forcing the handful of survivors up on to the roofs to think of various home-made methods of seeing them off. In one sequence, a comic survivalist couple expend an enormous amount of firepower to disable one of the monsters, prompting Bacon to remark "I guess we don't get to make fun of Burt's lifestyle any more". The monsters are cleverly designed and utilised creations which make formidable villains, and the threads of humour make the whole B movie feel rather endearing.
Entertaining and unself-conscious enough to stand the test of time, even if the puppetry doesn't. Unfortunately led to three sequels, which simply aren't as much fun.